Here come the Men in Black for a film they won’t let you remember.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Barry Sonnenfeld’s original Men in Black arrived like a bolt out of the blue back in 1997. Hailed as a sharp sci-fi film for both children and adults, the film exemplified Will Smith at the height of his powers and dominated multiplexes, pulling nearly $600 million globally. With two sequels in 2002 and 2012 failing to recapture the same magic, Sony Pictures has opted for a soft reboot that swaps the Smith and Tommy Lee Jones partnership for Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, and replaces previous director Sonnenfield with F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious).
This relaunch, dubbed Men in Black: International, sees Thompson play Molly, a young woman who has searched her whole life for the truth about the mysterious MIB. When she aces the entrance exam and is partnered with Agent H (Hemsworth), Molly (now known as Agent M) is reassigned to MIB’s London branch and tasked with a frivolous top-secret mission that sees the duo darting from jolly old England to Morocco, Italy and France.
The basic template of a Men in Black movie remains the same – to a point. You’ve got the newcomer acting as the audience POV character (Thompson), the more experienced agent showing them the ropes (Hemsworth), a powerful, pocket-sized MacGuffin that can propel the plot and a series of action set pieces populated with gooey, eccentric extra-terrestrials. So far, so good you might think.
Except, it’s not. Men in Black International moves in fits and starts, sparkling with energy in one scene before awkwardly shuffling through the next. Moment to moment, it’s very inconsistent, without a strong authorial voice or overarching narrative theme to fall back on when the characters, the plot or the jokes fall flat – which is on the regular.
Hemsworth and Thompson make for an entertaining pair (just as they did in Thor: Ragnarok), but the script is stuck in second gear, with gag after gag landing with the thump. You sense the filmmakers are striving for the same improvisational vibe that worked so well in the riotous Jump Street reboots, only it fails to translate in a PG-rated setting.
The plot is throwaway, the supporting cast is largely wasted (returning cast member Emma Thompson pops in for only a couple of scenes) and the twist, if you can call it that, is glaringly obvious from the outset. Honestly, if you don’t see the twist coming, chances are you’ve literally never seen a movie before in your entire life.
So is International any better or worse than Men in Black II or Men in Black III? Hard to say, as they’re all varying degrees of so-so, but at least we can all agree the first is an underappreciated classic. This newest instalment has some decent tricks up its sleeve, but nothing comes close to recapturing the insatiable chemistry and energy Smith and Jones brought to the original.
Men In Black: International is available in Australian cinemas from 13 June 2019
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures